Why touch-screen keyboard UX matters more than you think

Why standard touch-screen keyboard components are not always ideal for shared in-store kiosks and could be a security risk.

We’ve been doing a lot of work recently on upgrading the on-screen keyboards for Grid devices. It’s one of those little touches that doesn’t seem important at first but matters more than you might expect.  

Since Grid is used all over the world, we support many different languages. This means that we need to offer many different keyboards, not just the Roman alphabet. It’s a bigger problem that most people realize: there are hundreds of different alphabets, such as Greek, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Chinese, Arabic, various Indian languages, and so on. There are also significant differences in so-called “standard” Roman keyboards in different countries – the US uses a different layout to Europe, and different countries have different currency characters such as €, $, or £ as standard. And of course, most European languages use special characters such as ç, å, ö, or ñ.  

Even though there are many other input options available to us, on-screen keyboards are still essential for many use cases. Voice input works well, but it’s not suitable for all locations and it’s not appropriate for inputting private data or things like credit card numbers. Gestures, RFID, and other sensors can be useful, but they have limited functionality. Physical keyboards add extra cost, they break down, and they’re limited to one character set or layout. On-screen keyboards provide a flexible, familiar, reliable solution that can be used in many different circumstances. 

The easy solution could be risky 

The solution used by most software developers is just to plug in a standard touch-screen keyboard component, typically the Android keyboard. This is a quick and easy approach, which gives you immediate access to all the most popular alphabets and keyboards.  

But while that solution works fine for most mobile apps, it’s not always ideal for shared in-store kiosks or similar devices. This is because many standard keyboard components come with a load of extra features which aren’t necessarily appropriate. In fact, they could actually be a serious security risk.  

It's important to make a detailed examination of everything the basic keyboard component offers, and then configure it carefully to disable any features that could compromise your system.  

Predictive text and privacy 

As you’re no doubt aware, most mobile keyboards come with a useful feature to make it quicker and easier to type. Across the top of the keyboard, you’ll see a bunch of suggested words, based on what you’ve previously typed. Just tap on them, and it’ll type the entire word or phrase for you automatically. 


That's great – if you’re using your own phone. But if you’re using a shared device in-store, that’s a potential problem.  

On a shared device, the suggestions aren’t just based on what you’ve typed, but on the input from every single customer who’s used the device before you. Or, to put it another way, any customer who comes after you will be given suggestions based on what you typed. 

This means that they can see, for example, what you’ve been searching for. That may not be a major problem in a grocery store – you probably don’t mind too much if people know you’ve been buying frozen peas or cinnamon sticks. But in a pharmacy, do you really want people to know what medications you’ve been searching for, especially if intimate products are involved? Probably not.  

But product search is not the biggest problem. Predictive text suggestions can also include email addresses, physical addresses, phone numbers, and other personal data. That’s something you really, really don’t want other people to see. 

Customers need to feel reassured that when they finish a session on an endless aisle kiosk or a mobile POS, all their personal data will be cleared, and not made available to anyone else.  

GDPR compliance 

This isn’t simply a matter of customer perception. It’s a clear violation of GDPR – you're collecting identifiable and personal customer data and then failing to secure it. That can be a very costly security violation, with fines up to €10m or 2% of your total global turnover. That’s not a risk you want to take.  

We’ve seen this in stores all round the world. Most retailers we’ve spoken to aren’t even aware that it’s happening, let alone why it’s such a major problem.  

To minimize the risk to our clients, we use a custom keyboard on all Grid products. At the end of each user session, all data is cleared, ensuring that personal data is not shared with subsequent customers. We also offer keyboard options that do not use predictive text, which eliminates the problem entirely.  

It’s only a small detail in terms of the overall UI and UX, but these are the things that make the difference between a successful store digitalization program and an expensive disaster.  

Turn predictive text to your advantage 

However, with a little bit of ingenuity, the predictive text area can become one of the most valuable areas of real estate on the entire screen. By hooking this into your marketing content, you can suggest products and searches to customers before they’ve even started typing.  

In the image above, the keyboard itself is already suggesting products to customers, and they can search for them with a single touch. And of course, these suggestions can be automatically refined based on what they type, so if they start with chocolate, you can immediately offer them a choice of dark, milk, almond, truffles, and so on. Or if you have a promotion on a particular brand of chocolates, you can put that right in the suggestions bar.  

When it comes to customer satisfaction, the customer experience is critical. That’s why we tailor every single part of Grid’s UX to provide a slick, safe, and reliable experience. That creates happy customers, and ultimately more revenue for you.